Adventures of the Black Square, Whitechapel Gallery

‘Adventures of the Black Square’ is a rather ominous, but intriguing title for an exhibition. The Whitechapel Gallery is showcasing an important selection of abstract art from the last 100 years.

The selection of works is varied, giving a thorough overview of this often misunderstood genre. It begins with an example of the renowned Kazimir Malevich black square; a simple statement, the icon of suprematism and an ode to the colour black. The exhibition proceeds chronologically reaching the current day in the final rooms. The works are split into four themes: Utopia, Architectonics, Communication and the Everyday. We see how abstraction is approached differently through a wide range of media including painting, drawing, photography and video.

For me it was exciting to experience a wide range of works which I have never seen before, exhibited together as an effective narrative. I loved the geometric works, a striking colourful composition by Piet Mondrian (with an accompanying film of the artist’s studio), and lesser known works like Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s woven wall hanging, a pattern of shapes carefully sewn from Pearl cotton.

The development of abstraction across the globe indicates the influences that connect the works. The Russian Constructivist ideals in the early 20thcentury works are revisited in later works, for example Zvi Goldstein’s glorified megaphones emphasising the importance of communication in society. David Batchelor’s Monochrome Archive particularly stuck in my head, a series of photographs taken over a 20 year period, capturing square and rectangular panels, all accidentally encountered on walks through cities all over the world. Individually they are plain and uninteresting, but together they present a captivating and serene composition.

My mind was whirling after an hour observing the shapes, colours and textures. An extensive study of the history of abstract art, ‘Adventures of the Black Square’ is about so much more than the title initially suggests.

Exhibition continues until 6 April, more information and book tickets here.

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